ecoATM: sell your old devices at an ATM-hosted instant auction?

Tyler Cowen posted a brief on a new, very innovative venture. I’ll speculate this is a business model that you have not thought of.

…ecoATM, a firm based in San Diego…has devised and deployed in several American cities a series of ATM-like devices that will automatically analyse your mobile phone, MP3 player or phone charger, and then make you an offer for it. These machines will give you cash in hand or, if you prefer, send the money as a donation to the charity of your choice. The hope is that this hassle-free approach will appeal to people who can’t be bothered to recycle their old phone when buying a new one.

After taking fingerprints and driving-licence details (to discourage crooks from using them to fence stolen goods), ecoATM’s kiosks employ a mixture of computer vision and electronic testing (they will automatically present users with the correct cable and connector) to perform a trick that even the most committed gadget fan might struggle with—telling apart each of the thousands of models of mobile phones, chargers and MP3 players that now exist. They can even make a reasonable guess about how well-used (or damaged) a device is, which can affect its resale value. Any mistakes the machine does make are logged and used to improve accuracy in future.

Once the device on offer has been identified, the kiosk then enters it into an electronic auction. Interested parties bid, and a price is struck in seconds. This auction is the key to ecoATM’s business model, because it means the firm is acting as a broker, rather than carrying a stock of second-hand equipment which it then has to sell. If the owner of the equipment accepts the offer, the kiosk swallows the device and spits out the money.

Really.  The article is here.

it looks to me that ecoATM has a multi-layered moat. The physical ATMs and their locations is obvious. But they are also building an ecosystem around their auctions. If they get enough signups it won’t be easy to copy.